Witchcraft, what witchcraft? The story of the 29-year-old Jackie Ssematimba and her 28-year-old alleged partner in crime, Geofrey Mugwari, the self-made traditional healers reportedly from Uganda, is a big reminder to us in Namibia today in terms where we come from, where we are, where we say we are going, and how we are not getting there.
The story holds a mirror to us in a very surrealistic way as we frustrate the great potential we have to take this country forward by doing things that can be explained only by way of strange witchcraft.
First, these witchdoctors seem to have come into Namibia from East Africa without legal documents, thus meaning that they entered the country through witchcraft or some black juju that blinded immigration officials not to notice them with all their accoutrements.
When the police pounced on them, they found in the rooms of their operation dry bones, different animal furs, feathers, manufactured pills, all manners of herbs, syringes, medicaments in dirty bottled medicaments, powders, leather sticks and a big coyly plastic snake.
These self-proclaimed herbalists appear to have entered the Land of the Brave invisibly, probably all the healing work is in Katutura, where the compatible illnesses are most acute.
Second, the accounts reveal that they were in the business of treating people in bad romantic relationships, those facing job insecurities, those with bad dreams or insomnia, erectile dysfunctions for men and frigidity for women, those in need of promotion at work, those who needed to pass their examinations, those who needed jobs, those who needed their loved ones to come back rapidly, and those who needed better sized and functional private parts purposes of more fulfilling private lives and many more ills. In the event that the sufferer was not clear of the particular illness, the healers would identify and name it. And people seemingly believed in them and went for all kinds of ‘treatment’.
Third, interestingly the duo confessed that they were not real traditional healers, but business people and entrepreneurs, who were responding to the needs of the community in the context of the free market that Namibia offers.
We can safely presume that most of the clients of these entrepreneurs are good churchgoing folk, who go mostly to Prosperity Pentecostal churches over weekends with mouse furs and porcupine teeth in them into church sanctuaries with no qualms. What does this say about us?
We can laugh and ridicule those who paid clandestine visits to Ssematimba and Mugwari, but there are more lessons we learn from this saga than just locker room or beer hall or taxi chatter. There is more than we are willing to admit about the various witchcrafts operating in our Republican life today.
Witchcraft will be the story told in our future past. To start with, earlier this month, Prof PLO Lumumba, also from East Africa, eloquently lamented how people of the Negroid stock seem to be driven more by witchcraft than common sense.
When we are not defending our own positions, we agree that we Afrikans behave in manners that can only be explained by admitting there is something wrong with us, which, in the absence of meaningful scientific reasoning, must be witchcraft which has been injected into our Afrikan DNA, so that we are unable to do things that do not make us look foolish in the world.
While other civilisations advance in doing things rationally and scientifically, we are left to be motivated by fear often of the unknown or the leader.
As Afrikans we cannot countenance many of the ridiculous things we do with power. Instead of serving the people, we terrorise the people with it. Instead of using power as a privilege to serve, we use it as a plastic snake to scare others into silence or submission. Even informed leaders in Afrika are more of buffoons than rational players once they are in power.
Like the witchdoctor goes into a trance to perform tricks, our leaders are drunk with power – they get into a power trance that they cannot hear, see or feel the pain of others at all. They are surrounded by handclappers, whose necks are programmed to move the head only in the yes motion.
Lumumba shared how the late Congolese president Mobutu Sese Seko travelled in long motorcades with most of the cars filled with witchdoctors to protect him from who knows what!
Before we rush to rubbish witchcraft as the preoccupation of the uneducated and the great unwashed relatives in the villages from which most of us come, let us appreciate that witchcraft has been part of the history of humankind. The word ‘witchcraft’ derives from the word ‘Wicca’ meaning ‘the wise one’, and ‘craft’ meaning the practice.
Therefore the practice of the wise one, for better and for worse, depending on the situation. In traditional Afrikan societies, just like in all other pre-capitalist societies throughout the world, witchcraft was the explanation for phenomena that could not be qualified or qualified scientifically, but had great impact on the good and bad behaviour of the people in a given context.
People were warned, encouraged, and even punished for events or experiences that generated a reservoir of beliefs around the dos and don’ts in the community. Very often death was associated with some or other form of witchcraft.
In Biblical times, witchcraft was associated with paganism or works of the devil, thus to be ostracised by the clergy, who possessed the power to rebuke the works of Satan. Whereas these habits have decreased in other civilisations, they remain part and parcel of the greater Afrikan communities today where illness, ill-fortune such as accident, disability or death were not considered natural, but a consequence of some ill-intentioned deed by someone, invariably older members within the family.
In Africa one cannot be rich or poor naturally. To stay in power is impossible unless other people are punished or killed.
We in Namibia ought to be wary of too many things that can only be explained by invoking witchcraft. We cannot run away from the reality that we seem to believe that development will come to us through witchcraft, such that we do not have to do what other people do to develop their nations.
We continue to suffer from the deep inferiority complex that we feel better when we are told that we are better by outsiders, not by our own. We never believe or celebrate our own talent, but would pay anything to receive the same advice from outsiders, especially white people to whom we have given the right to be right all the time.
In the absence of the foreign white people, we turn to the Chinese. It is this context that Chika Onyeani wrote in ‘The Capitalist Nigger’ that if a black person wants his/her business to thrive, better hire a foreign white person as the marketer.
We continue to do things we know shall not get us the desired results. Africa goes about doing business the usual way yet expect different results. That is witchcraft at its best. And we are all in this together, not just the leaders. We Afrikans are particularly susceptible to issues that do not make scientific sense. For instance we are more fearful of the elders and those in power than other civilisations.
Hence our dishonest practices by not working with the real truth. For instance, many of our leaders are in leadership positions when we all know that they do not possess the competency and/or skills to do what we expect of the.
And it is not their fault, yet we believe that by keeping them there, witchcraft will give them the wherewithal to do what they cannot do naturally. Very often in our body politic people are appointed to high positions when both the appointing authority and the appointee know that such a relationship cannot bring about a better result fore future.
Yet the superstition is held that through loyalty to the party or leader at any given time, skills will arrive through relationships. There are personages who sit still as leaders for over two decades, recycled from one portfolio to the other, with the same no-no impact on what they do. Yet we expect some miracle will happen.
That is post-modern witchcraft. About 20 percent of our members of parliament did not finish Grade 10, yet we believed that through some witchcraft, they will acquire the ability once they are called honourable this and honourable that.
This practice brings even the name of true witchcraft into disrepute, and we must apologise to traditional witchcraft! These MPs can spend their weekends in Pentecostal churched, where untrained pastors are expected to pray legislative skills into them, and it is not going to happen, just as the claims that these clerics make that they can pray fuel into empty vehicles or airtime into cellphones of the poor and most vulnerable is neither here nor there.
One day, when our history is retold people will wonder how we could defend some of the things we are doing today. That we put our personal interests above the wellbeing of the nation, that we violate our own rules, yet think that no one will remember, we break down the very order that we have created, that our generation is putting aside scientific and constitutional principles in preference of what is convenient for us, even when we know very well that we are not right.
We disregard the importance of education for critical thinking in preference of teaching the youth what to think. We are teaching a falsehood that some Namibians are more Namibian than others even though we know that the supreme law of the land, the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia bestows upon all of us the benefit of being equal under the law, on our streets and especially when we serve the nation.
We shall be remembered that we were bewitched by power and materialism to become brave cowards in defense of individuals instead of true patriotism that can stand the test of times. We shall be remembered as the generation that resented merit and individual talent to create, but chose compliance even if we knew that there was nothing to comply with.
We shall be remembered to have been the generation that was fearful and resentful of the future, so much so that we cursed the youth being born for the time they were born, instead of when we wanted them to be born… NEVER.